Sunday, 31 May 2009

Vez's Adventures in May 09

Dear Friends of the disabled children of Sierra Leone,
My thoughts go towards you as I say thank you that another month has passed. Your support has kept me going through many tough days and now as it seems to be getting hotter and hotter my energy is quickly fading. It is however also mango season and the huge mango trees in our compound have been bountiful of the big red and yellow shiny fruits. As I sit at my computer on the 2nd storey, I just saw out of the window, sticks waving in the trees – most likely our guards trying to knock down the mangos still hanging. It seems crazy that we still have to go off and buy our mangos when the staff eat our own! Still we can afford to and they are so cheap anyway. It's good to see that both adult and child alike are enjoying these sweet mangos....can't be bad, and it certainly beats sweets and biscuits!!

So this month I'll let you in on some more of my thoughts, but first be warned the sun really is getting to my head. In temperatures easily reaching the 40's (and definitely hotter in the car), I'm finding it hard to do anything sensible these days!

This photo is a little lady called Mary. She was referred to us about 8 months ago from Mercy Ships and has been a joy to work with. Her Grani and Mum are both very diligent with her stretches, and the ideas we've given to help her learn have also gone down well. Her new chair has helped improve how she can communicate with speech and work with her hands, it was just unfortunate that it finally arrived was about 6 weeks later than I hoped, as our carpenter Allusan has not been the most reliable again. We got there in the end and Mary and her family didn't seem to mind, even though I did!
Everyone here is used to waiting and being patient, it's part of life, or should I say, time is not part of life. However, I can't help but feel that Mary will be waiting and waiting for the rest of her life, like so many others, for something that is unlikely to ever come about here. Now she has got to the stage where she is learning, and growing, we're preventing further problems physically, she's gradually getting stronger, and although she may never walk I hope she will be able at some point to move herself around independently even if from a wheelchair. So what is she, and so many others, waiting for?

A school that will allow her to learn and become a useful part of society and her family. So much of my encouraging and counselling of our families is to help them understand that their child is not cursed or useless, but precious in God's sight and able, in their own way to bring something special to the lives of those around them. So once we reach Mary's stage, really she should be in a group of other children, who learn songs, and interact with each other, who have fun with play and learning to count. But there is nothing for these children at all. The ones that are sent to school never make it to the next class as they fail the end of year exams. I had one 14 year old still in Class 1 because she never got through. We teach the family that function is more important than exam marks. So instead we encourage them to work on numbers so eventually they might be able to handle money. And to write letters, but prioritise the ones in their names so at least they could sign their name. But really, who are we kidding??? These children need more....more support, more opportunity to play and learn, more chance in life. Is that too much to ask?
So we continue to try to do what we can, and this month past we held our 2nd annual Beach Gathering. It celebrates our 2nd year doing this work, and I for one am thankful at how the work has grown and succeeded in giving so many families a little glimmer of hope. Many children are more loved, more played with and given more chance. The beach again was enjoyed by all who came, and the carers seemed to especially enjoy the singing competition and the talks that a few of the mums gave. They were encouraging of one another and to keep going with the advice we are giving them. For many it was the first time of seeing that they are not the only ones caring for a disabled child, and that there are so many more out there, even in areas close to them. It was also encouraging to be able to hear from their own people the successes and progress of their children while working with us. As last year, cutting all the fruit was much work and supervising that many children on the beach was chaos, but well worth every minute.

In the photo above you can also see Sarah Withers (in red). Sarah is the new Occupational Therapist who will join us later in September for a year. She came out for a 2 week initial visit and we were greatly encouraged at her quick adaptions to culture and climate, now all she needs to get used to is our kids, Abu and the carpenter Allusan!! I have been praying and waiting for a very long time for another therapist to join our team, and even now we would love to expand and train another national. This however would need yet another international trained therapist to join our team. So if you know of anyone who would be interested, please do send them my details!!

From time to time, people ask me about specific children that I have written about previously, and one of those is Ola. If you remember 2 years back, Ola we rescued from the government hospital, where he had been abandoned for over a year. Even there he was severely neglected and I had been told they had not been able to place him anywhere due to his disability. 3 weeks and many prayers later, we managed to take him to his new home, the best orphanage I work in here in Sierra Leone. The children and staff welcomed him with open arms and there he has been well loved and fed and cared for since. Initially I thought that some of his delayed development was due to malnourishment and neglect, however now he is in a good place he has not progressed as much as I hoped. That said, Ola is bright and happy, more alert and interacting with people around him. He has recently got a new 1-1 carer, another Isatu, but she seems much more able to cope with his daily physio needs as well as feeding, washing, dressing, playing and all the other things a small child needs!! So here are a few photos of him, the first one - shy and clingy, how he was 2 years ago, the last one – exhausted at the end of a long work out!!

And finally I want to let you know that I will be coming home for leave in the UK for some of July and August. I'm already looking forward to that light at the end of this part of the tunnel. I hope to get some proper rest, but will also be doing some business – I'm hoping to start the process of registering this work as a UK charity, and I'll also have a chance to catch up with some of you my supporters. If you particularly want me to come to your church or house group, please do let me know so I can start planning, although no promises as I do want some rest too! Also, if anyone knows anyone who might have a car I could borrow for some of the time I'm needing to get around in the UK, then please, I'd love to hear from you.
So I'll leave you with this hopeful thought as we all wonder 'why?' to many things we don't understand about this world and think about 'what's just around the next corner?' ......

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will direct your paths.

With Love, Vez

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Freetown home visits

Today has been a little crazy. I used to hate my Freetown home visit day, but then they got a little easier once I knew where the patients lived and found some good parking places.

Now I hate them again.

The morning started with sitting in traffic for 45 mins to Congo Cross, which should without traffic take 10 mins max.

Then from house to house we went, traffic intermittent with Police officers intermittent with crazy taxi drivers and the odd pedestrian stepping out in front of the car.

None of the children we saw today were new, but all seemed to be hard work. The first patient I had specifically phoned the night before as we wanted to speak to the mum, who has been absent on the last few visits. She has had some family finance problems and has had to go to market early in the mornings to sell leaving her 3 yr old disabled son at home being watched by older sister (9) and neighbours when the sister is at school. This families desperate situation is not uncommon, and the struggle to get enough money to feed all the mouths in the home is never easy, especially when there is no man around to help. Still, I was a little frustrated when I had called the eve before to make sure she would be there, then she wasn't.
Still, on we went and had a good session with the child, and spent some time nurturing and teaching the sister how to do some important stretches and positioning for her little brother.

Passing through a huge crowd of people who had gathered around an accident, we tried to get to our next patient in a slum area called Krew Bay. Parking the car as far from the crowd as we could, we walked down a steep slope to get to the house. Ibrahim was waiting as ever with smiles, but also with wet shorts....a quick change and ready for some good work. We measured him for a standing frame we are hoping to make in the next few weeks. Both he and his family are excited that he will be able to be standing upright for some of the day.

Next patient was at the back of a tailors shop..... we squeeze our way through the cutting and sewing, to find Umaru. His chair needed adjusting but without an entire set of carpentry tools with us (which is a little unpractical), Abu ended up walking off down the road with the chair on his head to find the nearest carpenter workshop. 3000 Leones (60p) and 45 mins later he returns with all the adjustments done. In the meantime I had enjoyed playing with Umaru with the neighbours kids - was so good because I'm not sure how much interaction he gets with other children as he needs so much facilitation just to sit upright , let alone pass a ball to other children.

By this point in the day it is SO hot, I'm literally sweating so much I think I'm melting!! There has been a few nights of rain recently, the rainy season come early?? But the Africans say that "the rain cleans the sun", and now I know exactly what they mean - and the sun sure was clean and bright and clearly beating down on us without a hint of grace!

Our next stop was the house of a child of ours who died last week. It's always sad when this happens, and many 'why' questions are asked. But all we can do is go and sympathise, do the cultural thing of giving some money in an envelope and pray with them for encouragement.

On to our last two. Chu Chu enjoyed lots of sensory play - all new experiences to him as we teach his aunty to encourage learning in a different way since Chu Chu can't see. Another chair to adjust, this time a foot plate that we had designed and got our carpenter to make. Fitted perfectly - love it when that happens!

Then Abu went off to see the last one alone as this child is afraid of 'white man' and does nothing but cry when I am around.

Instead, I go off to the car to start writing up some notes. Only in true Freetown fashion, I didn't get any peace as people were knocking at my car door, talking to me through the window, hassling me for anything and everything. At the end of a long hot dirty day, I have to admit I was not very patient with them, especially when one told me 'You don't do anything to help us disabled people' that made me mad...if only he knew. I wound my window up and tried to get on with writing the notes, but is was so hot I nearly suffocated! When these men moved on I quickly opened the window again and took a deep breath of yet more warm air!

I was totally finished by the time Abu got back to the car. Only another hour in traffic, in the heat, with the windows open for any passer by the talk to me/beg me/hassle me, with bad drivers and police officers to dodge, then eventually to get home again.....

Can't wait for my next Freetown day - honest!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Beach Gathering 09

Last year we celebrated one year of this home based care for children with
disabilities with a beach gathering. It was a great success so we decided to do it again. However this year slightly earlier due to Sarah's visit (the Occupational Therapist who will join us later this year).
Plenty of time to play in the sand and water...
for some a first time ever to visit the beach!

Others made new friends...

And another aim was to get parents talking and supporting one another....

After a hour and half of play, I had to drive one lad with a badly bleeding foot to the Doctor, while Abu led a time of parents talking of their experiences. They used this time to tell each other they are not alone with their disabled children, and that progress can be made. They were so encourging of each other and of the help we have been giving them.

We thanked each other, Abu for his hard efforts learning this work, and of course thanked God for every experience and opportunity He has given us to grow closer to Him.

Then we shared some delicious fruit and drinks. The looks on their satisfied faces made up for the 5 hours it had taken Sarah and I to cut the
40 mangos, 10 pineapples, 2 watermelons, 20 bananas the night before!

Such an event could not have happened without all the wonderful extra people who volunteered to get up early on a Saturday morning to help. So BIG thank yous to them too!
Little Kallon was exhausted by the end....definately home time!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Vez's Adventures in SL April 09

Dear Friends!

Thought I'd drop you a quick line again as I'm trying to keep these updates monthly. Every month I get wonderful feedback from people about how they've enjoyed reading our news, I hope this is a way for you all to feel a part of what I'm doing. As I'm sure I have said before this work would not be able to continue without your support in friendship, finance and prayer. So if you are getting this newsletter you are all totally part of God's work in this country and long may it continue.

This last month I have tried to take a bit of rest. Life has a way of getting ever so busy here and although I try to keep weekends to recover, that does not always happen. So when my boyfriend Rob offered to come out from the UK around Easter, not only was I overjoyed to be able to see him after too long, but also knew that he would enforce some rest! And that we did.

It made me think about what rest is and this is what happened....To think back over my time here and what God has done and is doing is exciting when you are talking it through with another person, Rob in this case. Some things are hard to describe how and why, but I do know that God has been good to me in so many ways, I only hope Rob does not think me totally mad for the decisions I have made in the past. Sometimes making a difficult decision can seem like taking too huge a risk, but God is faithful when we are walking in His ways. A lesson well learnt. We also spent some time visiting some hidden yet totally beautiful parts of the country – my favourite place being Banana Island, and then Bureh Town beach were we slept out despite the sudden down pour of rain. We had fun together and refreshed we certainly were, by God's awesome creation and having time to just be together.

Psalm 116:7 Let my soul be at rest again,for the Lord has been good to me.

As far as work goes Abu carried on seeing some of the patients on his own. I am hoping that by passing on more responsibilities to him independently that he will rise to these new challenges. He is particularly struggling with organisation and planning and for as long as he has me to fall back onto, I think he will not learn. So sending him out more on his own and expecting the same high standards that I have set, we'll see just how he grows!!

One thing that Abu is doing more and more is measuring for and designing special postural seating for our severely disabled children who cannot sit. His side of things have been going well, but our carpenter Allusan is becoming somewhat slack again. I'm not really too sure how to handle this and would certainly appreciate your prayers. Since he is the best carpenter we have worked with (and it took 4 previous ones who took much time and overseeing only to produce disasters!), we really need to keep hold of him working for us. These designs are complicated and specific to each child. Allusan does an excellent job at the making, but the timing and organisation of his work has let him down numerous times recently. It makes us look unprofessional and uncommitted to our families if the work is not done, and that can also mean wasting time and money, not to mention stress and tiredness on unnecessary travel. It's not making me all that happy(understatement). I would love Abu to be able to sort these kind of issues out on his own, but it seems that 'white man' standard cannot be achieved when it is one SLeonean dealing with another, especially as they are friends. Payment is also an issue. I want to pay fairly, but I want Abu to start dealing with the money. Allusan is very grey with how he prices his work, not that I feel we over pay him now, but if left to Abu, I'm not convinced that that would not start to happen. When we are unsure how much materials cost as the prices are so unstable, it is very hard to consistently be good stewards of money. May God grant us, but particularly Abu wisdom and honesty in this money business!

Two of our patients have been seen by a visiting Danish Orthopaedic surgeon in a hospital in a town called Makeni. We were praying for some advice about how to get in touch with them as it was seeming like every way we looked we couldn't get through. Then everything seemed to happen in one go! Two weeks later I was sending Jamestina and Kallon off for review. Jamestina had some soft tissue release operations on both her legs, which we are hoping will help her to walk better. While Kallon's feet have been plastered in a special way, hoping to get better positioning so he can stand. We'll see them both this next week, but they both need skilled follow up and good care and compliance from their families. We will also be dependant on the 'National Rehabilitation Centre' – a now government run facility, to make splints. This will also be a challenge for many reasons.

We have been involved in Disability Awareness training at SOS, as well as liaising with other therapists in the country in a SLART meeting! (– SLART – Sierra Leone Association of Rehabilitation Therapists). I found out officially that in the country there are 3 national physiotherapists, 3 expat physios, 1 trained Occupational Therapist, and a handful of Mid-Level Therapists, who have basic training in rehabilitation in general. Not many for a country of 6.2 million people. However, it was good to meet with about 5 of them to encourage them and talk about helping each other out where possible. We should be unifying more to try and get the government to recognise the importance of therapy. As a body, I tired to encourage them to promote themselves and their profession, but mostly to use each other to learn and develop their own skills. Self directed learning and continuous professional development is not promoted here, but we all have more to learn. Watch this space as to how much more I get involved.
May is already here as I write this and a new season is about to begin in this work. Sarah the Occupational Therapist who is due to come out in September for a year, has just arrived for her 2 week orientation. There will be much to introduce her to – culture, language, a different way of working, Abu, getting around...the list could go on and on. Please pray that I make it the most useful time for her, and that she is inspired and excited about what will be a huge new adventure for her too.

Finally I want to show off one of my friends' achievement. Caroline McMillan, who visited SL earlier in the year, ran the London Marathon in 4 hours 50 mins!! She was raising money for the new SOS rehab fund and has started us off very well. Congratulations to her and thanks to all her sponsors!

Thank you all once again from myself and the children and families you are supporting for joining us on this journey, may God bless your faithfulness.

With Love, Vez